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Book Review: Meditations on Violence

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World ViolenceMeditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence by Rory Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is very much a one-man meditation on experience with real violence against the stories and trainings of various martial arts. Miller is a prison guard and has seen a lot of real violence and people who have committed it on a regular basis, and this book is entirely about both the validity and doubt that one should use to regard anything one is taught.


I like that he talks about the blind spots of various methods of training, and what various martial arts are good for. I love that he starts with the caution that personal experience should trump anything any 'expert' says, and starts with saying that the most important skill is to be able to see what is actually there. Not what one wishes might be there, planned to have there, or what one expects to be there. To simply see and respond to what actually exists, and that so few people seem to be able to do it after being attacked.

In complete contrast to "On Killing" there are no experimental statistics, only personal experience and opinion.

I also loved that for 99% of the book Miller shies away from anything even approaching spiritual or metaphysical like a Good American Male, and then in the last few pages of the book writes down the thing I'll probably treasure the most.

I also really loved his analogy that real violence is like a rhinoceros, of which very very little is known about in the wild by anyone. Whereas popular opinion of violence is like the unicorn, which is entirely mythical, but everyone *knows* that a unicorn has goat's feet, a single horn, is attracted to virgins, etc. etc. Just like many of the things people "know" about violence are just dead wrong as they learned it all from comics, movies, news media, teachers of martial arts that have no personal experience, or stories.

A warning, there is a lot of very explicit description of violence and the results of violence. But he does his best to tell it straight, not as lurid entertainment, but always to prove a point specific to his arguments. And he has some very, very strong (and to my mind very GOOD) opinions about what to do in certain very real situations, especially lots of good advice on how to avoid violence all together. I like his opinion that self-defense is all really about getting away with the least damage possible when you've already screwed.

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Yeah... and he really highlights the differences between real violence and story violence and why there are differences, and it makes a lot of sense as to why certain thing like fair play and more evenly matched opponents make sense. *grins* And why you'll find nearly none of that in the real stuff.

He had this *fascinating* point that policemen when hit will just curl up and die when a bad guy won't, and he ties it into the fact that policemen or good guys won't "cheat" and as kids playing cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers or... whatever... the kids that didn't cheat were the ones that just lay down when they were hit. *laughs* That was utterly bemusing, but part of the gauntlet of human emotional range that he covers. It's odd and a little insane, but... very insightful.
Oh, that sounds fascinating, I'll have to check it out. Thanks!
This sounds very interesting and I am always into figuring out what makes people tick so I will have to give this a read.
"To simply see and respond to what actually exists, and that so few people seem to be able to do it after being attacked."

Isn't that, exactly a central teaching of every art, martial and otherwise?
"I like his opinion that self-defense is all really about getting away with the least damage possible when you've already screwed."

My girlfriend is fond of quoting a sharp-tongued joke to the effect that the winner of a knife fight is the one who goes to the hospital.

Now I am imagining a rhinocam... Well, if there's catcams, why not?

I really ought to be in bed. I'll probably look for that book.
I like your girlfriend. *grins*

There should be rhinocams!

Hope you had a good night! And that the book is as interesting as you hope it'll be.
It sounds like a really interesting book and I like that you take the time to share things like that^^

also, concerning what you wrote on Y-Gal: You should try make your violence come closer to the reality
Like that not only will it show more realism, but you will also add something good to the circle of education from stories.
After all if people started writing about unicorns like they really are (whatever that means) we wouldn't think of them as goat-feeted freaks^^
*giggles* Or started writing about rhinos and how they're related to unicorns... *laughs*

Yeah... thanks for your thoughts on that, too!!
Unicorns aren't nice, or what you think...
Heehee, my (published) story "The Natural History of the Unicorn" I think was bought because it addressed exactly that paradigm.
Okay, a book for my must-read list, when I can find it at the library or used book store.

What I always liked about my dojo was Mr. K. grew up streetfighting, as "the Japanese kid in SF Chinatown." A lot of his approach reflected that. "Run-fu is the most effective martial art." "The important thing is being able to get away, not to show off." "Don't get into a fight. If you do, fight dirty, then get out of there." He had techniques classes, but he also had a "real world" class for more advanced students. We were taught things like sensing when someone was coming up behind you, distraction, dealing with multiple attackers...

As a onetime street fighter in Van Nuys, I appreciated his approaches and outlook.
Mmm... yeah, I think Mr. K would be someone good to learn from. There is something about having real experience, and how to train specific reactions to situations like that. Neat!

And, that makes a ton of sense to me, that last. It's good to learn from someone that has really been there.
Sounds interesting. The opinion, "that self-defense is all really about getting away with the least damage possible when you've already screwed" is interesting, and I like that he makes the point to offer advice about how to avoid violence.
Yeah... I liked that last a lot. Places not to go, situations to avoid, and what kind of people and situations to look out for and avoid. Also just... being able to change the "playing field" for certain situations to disarm them, and what to look for and how to look.

I found that very worthwhile.